Polaris Realty Capital Focuses on A Special Niche, From A Special Place – Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables is a long way from Saudi Arabia, but for real estate investor Ziyad Mneimneh, the move to relocate here was a return of sorts. A native of Lebanon, Mneimneh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Miami 40 years ago; his parents had moved to High Pines to flee Lebanon’s civil war. Upon graduation he left for New York and then Europe, in a career that evolved from designing architecture to managing real estate assets for a global firm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
After 15 years in Riyadh, he returned first to Pinecrest, then to Coral Gables. He now lives a few blocks away from the Aragon Avenue offices of the firm that he launched here a dozen years ago. “The [Gables] downtown is very, very special,” says Mneimneh. “In essence, it’s a human scale downtown in a suburban environment. I can walk from a beautiful suburbia, on a quiet safe street, to a charming downtown,” he says. “I envy myself.”
Nonetheless, Mneimneh would not have moved if not for a family medical issue. He was already living with his wife and two sons in a “lovely bubble” in Saudi Arabia, a gated community of expats with their own school, social clubs, recreational facilities, restaurants, etc. “I was very happy there,” he says.
Then his youngest son was diagnosed with autism. He felt he had to move to the U.S., where treatment for children with autism was far ahead of Saudi Arabia. That same dichotomy between want and need – Mneimneh wanted to stay, but needed to move – is reflected in his Gables-based firm, Polaris Realty Capital. Unlike his previous Saudi-based real estate investment firm, Mneimneh’s new firm focuses only on multi-family and student housing projects. “A free-standing home is something that most people want. Low cost, multi-family housing is something that people need,” he says.
Targeting the multi-family sector was the result of Mneimneh’s epiphany at the height of the Great Recession, namely that a good part of the next generation would not initially be able to purchase single-family homes. “It satisfies a need of the new generation of Millennials, who have a different financial situation than the generation who came before them,” he says. “As they start to form young families, they need more space, they need single-family housing, but they can’t afford the down payment.”
Mneimneh’s model for Polaris has been straightforward and successful. “We are the nexus of two groups of people. Our investors come from across the pond, in Europe and the Middle East. Our U.S. partners are long established real estate companies that need capital to execute their projects,” he says. Polaris invests in multi-family and student rental communities of 200 units or more, focusing on Texas, Central Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. It now manages more than a quarter billion dollars in assets.
“We solely look at acquisitions of existing projects, improving them, turning them around and putting them back on the market,” he says. Polaris acts as the asset manager, while the real estate companies rehab the property, upgrade management and after an average of three years, put the projects back on the market. Annual returns for his investors average in the high teens.
“Polaris is just the kind of company we love to have in the Gables,” says Julian Perez, director of the city’s Economic Development Department. “Innovative and entrepreneurial and, while respectful of our traditions and culture, part of making Coral Gables a smart city of the future.”